Best Shots Extra: ACTION COMICS, SNARKED, More

Best Shots Extra: ACTION COMICS, SNARKED
 

Action Comics #2

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Rags Morales Brent Anderson, Brad Anderson, and Rick Bryant

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 9/10

As sophomore efforts go, Action Comics #2 comes off as pretty clever. Last issue, we were introduced to the generics of Superman. Who is he? What does he do? Why does he do it? This time around, things get a little more specific, providing some details as to how Superman's powers work, or at least, at what level he can use them. For an issue that takes place with its main character down for the count for most of it's pages, it's a pretty electric read, moving quickly, and swinging back and forth between Superman and his burgeoning archenemy Lex Luthor, giving us a little more insight into what makes the latter tick.

While most of this issue could really count as exposition, it certainly doesn't feel that way — this is "Comics 101" stuff. For example, we know Lois Lane once had a relationship with her father's subordinate, John Corben (remember that name?), not because there's a caption explaining it, but because their dialogue lets us know there's a history there. We know that Luthor probably has more knowledge about Kal-El's past than even Kal does, because there are hints in the story. It's a brilliant work of sequential storytelling, proving why Grant Morrison is as revered as he is. When the time comes, he can write the hell out of a comic book.

If there are any flaws with Action Comics #2, I'd say they come from Morrison's need to give us too much, too fast. Normally, I'd be all for getting everything on the table with no need for decompression, but there are some bits, such as the introduction of several supporting cast members, and even a couple villains, that maybe could've used a little more build up. That's not to say the story suffers for it; rather it's interesting to see how these characters connect in this new mythos. The problem is simply wondering how quickly the book will move away from the subtle, street-level tone of the first issue.

There are very few seams showing between Rags Morales and Brent Anderson's respective work throughout this issue. Morales certainly gives his characters a more rounded facial structure, but aside from hoping that he doesn't continue needing help finishing issues, there's very little to jar the eye. Both artists do a fine job of conveying not just Superman's strength, but his suffering. It's kind of thrilling to see a Superman that comes off as a little closer to us mere mortals — feeling pain, and even blacking out from intense electrical shock, poisoning and other various tortures. It's never gratuitous, though, thanks to the tasteful rendering, and Morrison's use of the plot device as less of a showcase of our hero's weakness, but more a display of his strength. Superman will always bounce back, adapting and surviving whatever comes his way.

This is the first of the new #2's that I've read, and while I fear some won't fare as well, Action Comics continues to be an inspiring read, showing exactly what DC should be accomplishing through these various reboots, and relaunches. I can't think of a better title to usher in a new era of superhero comics, than the title and character that started it all in the first place.

 

Snarked #1

Written by Roger Langridge

Art by Roger Langridge and Rachelle Rosenberg

Published by BOOM!

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Review: 9/10

"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages--and kings--

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings."

-The Walrus and the Carpenter

Thor: The Mighty Avenger was one of the best books put out last year. Sadly, it was cancelled, but writer Roger Langridge has kept busy. Having worked on various Muppet projects and Marvel's current John Carter: A Princess of Mars, he's now brought a slightly askew version of Lewis Carrol's Wonderland to audiences with Snarked. I guess I should actually say that this isn't a Wonderland story, per se, but is more of a take on one of Carroll's lesser-known works, "The Hunting of the Snark". You have the Walrus and the Carpenter, with the Walrus still being quite the con man. The Cheshire Cat, who is sneaky as ever. And you have hints of the Red Queen.

Snarked follows the adventure of Princess Scarlett, and her brother Prince Rusty. They are on a quest to find their father, the Red King, as he's been missing for months. You also have several subplots of Walrus and Carpenter's (here named Wilburforce and Clyde) shenanigans.

Langridge's art here is reminiscent of Shultz's Peanuts, especially with the design of Scarlett and Rusty. Other characters are anthropomorphic and as anybody who is familiar with his other works, you know he excels at this sort of environment. It's cute and fun and easy to get into. The dialogue is made specifically with every reader imaginable to comprehend. Rachelle Rosenberg's colors compliment Langridge's cartoonish style effectively and gives the land and characters such a crisp look.

It's a great start to an all-ages book, and enjoyable even if you're not a Wonderland historian.

 

Pilot Season: The Test #1

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov

Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Image Comics

Review by Wendy Holler

'Rama Review: 7 out of 10

Joshua Hale Fialkov is having a banner week. Not only does the ongoing series Last of the Greats launch, but so does The Test #1, the first of this year's pilot season offerings. For those unfamiliar with pilot season, this promotion introduces eight single Top Cow issues within eight weeks. The most popular comic gets its own miniseries. If The Test is anything to go by, this is going to be a very good pilot season indeed.

The Test opens with a man who can't scream. The first view of him is when he bolts upright. As he slowly wakes up and becomes aware of his surroundings, his situation becomes more rather than less strange. A television in the wall plays a message asking him to step outside for "orientation," and the impersonal, herding tone of the message is just the first of many warning signs not to trust what he's being told. While Portal and Dark City both deserve nods for setting people up to read the menace here, Fialkov more than earns this particular storytelling payoff. The first panels of The Test are ominously slow. Small details – an aged and pitted balcony, empty picture frames – imply age but also coldness. The setting for The Test has a void where personal and human history should be, which makes the later glimpses we get of those histories all the more interesting.

The art has to carry a lot of storytelling weight in the comic, particularly in the beginning when the main character interacts silently with the world around him, and for the most part, Rahsan Ekedal's panels succeed quite well. The art makes a few missteps, mostly by showing more than I wanted to see at a few points, but those moments can be chalked up to personal preference rather than artistic limitation. The gratuitous G-string shot, for example, was annoying but not story-derailing. Other moments of discomfort seem to be part of the creators' plan. The coloring, for example, implies the too-bright gleam of uncomfortable fluorescent lights, and the many shades of blue in the comic are like creepy variations on a theme.

What the comic does best is mystery, and this issue builds visual and written suspense in straightforward and subtle ways. One particularly nice sequence occurs with the introduction of a dark, grey-paneled doorway. While there's little doubt about what lies beyond the door, the purposefully slowed travel through the house is not only a nice reversal of the main character's introduction, but also a careful buildup of tension for a genuinely horrific reveal. Small touches also create a more subtle effect, like when the looming, alien-looking streetlights of this strange place intersect or hover to the side of a panel. Strange messages, obscured memories, and missing people contribute to the sense of tension. The basic hook, that these are the last people on Earth and they must rebuild the human race, is a fantastic one, even if that premise turns out to be a lie. If the story has any failings, it's that the last few beats of the issue are a bit abrupt. The decision to leave specific plot questions open is a good one – it's the kind of thing that makes people vote for your pilot season comic – but a few of the last plot moments didn't have the careful and regulated pacing of the earlier ones.

Overall this is a very strong first issue. I can't say for sure if this particular series will get my pilot season vote since I haven't seen the others yet, but I can say with certainty that as far as I'm concerned, this is the one to beat. Like the web series The Ark, this is a classic science fiction trope developed with sure and careful flair. This particular issue is itself fun but also shows great promise, and here's hoping that we get a chance to see that promise fulfilled.

 

Chopper #1

Written by Martin Shapiro

Art by Juan Ferreyra and Chandran Ponnusamy

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Asylum Press

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

The slasher sub-genre never gets the love it deserves. I know there are much more cerebral horror flicks out there, but sometimes you don't want that. Sometimes you just want to sit around with your friends and shout “Whooooooaaa” when a good slice sends some random internal organ flying across the screen. There is something to be said for well-crafted schlock. It's harder, however, for that visceral and morbid joy to translate onto the comic book page. Perhaps it's a victim of the medium itself, in that you can't really be surprised when everything on the page is revealed in one turn. And although digital comics can change that with panel view, you're still missing out on the complete slasher experience. For a horror comic to succeed it needs to pull in the reader with likable characters and a pace that embraces the monthly format, not fight it.

I like the setup to Chopper from Asylum Press. A drug-dealing cheerleader pops the wrong bit of smack and can now see the dead. Because of her new gift, she's stalked by the Reaper, a headless Hell's Angel biker bent on taking the soul's of sinners back to hell. Even worse, her drug-dealing ways prevent her from going to her cop dad. Okay. Cool. If I read that in my Netflix queue, I'd hit play on that bad boy and settle in for some good schlock-and-chop.

But Chopper opens with our heroine Christina commenting on all the strange things she sees in a world, with little explanation as to what caused them. Although Christina implies she might be a little crazy, I don't think we as the reader are meant to believe that. I get the impression writer Martin Shapiro intended more backstory, but instead decided on throwing us directly into Christina's world. It works to a point. However, so much time is spent on introducing us to her friends and setting, that by the time a mysterious murder is discovered and the Reaper killing kicks in, I'm a little bored. There is also the question of Christina as a character. She simply isn't all that likable, at least as we know her now. Perhaps had Shapiro spent a bit more time with her and not her world, I'd find her more sympathetic and understanding.

Juan Ferreyra's art is functional, if not wholly inspiring. His panel layout and penciling suggest a strong understanding of the medium, but not a comfort. This is very much comic art by the numbers. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I expected more from the artist behind Rex Mundi. Interestingly, the art makes a more dynamic shift as the book progresses. While Chopper maintains much of the basic panel design, Ferreyra does allow his art to grow once the Reaper arrives and the blood flows. Still, something about the art feels lacking. It's missing a certain amount of depth. The characters are merely placed upon the scene, instead of being a part of the world.

I also has some issue with the depiction of the girls in this comic. I love a good cheesecake shot, even more so in a horror story. I am a firm follower of the Joe Bob Briggs style of film rating. Shoot, I am even cool with a bit of objectification if everyone involved is in on the joke. But Chopper felt creepy to me. These school kids are just that, kids. I know this is a comic and they aren't real. Shoot, even in horror flicks, the victims are often high schoolers, but are always played by folks in the twenties. It's hard to say why it bugged me, but something about focusing a tight shot on high school girl as she got dressed in the morning just made me feel like a dirty old man. Your mileage may vary.

Chopper isn't a bad book, but nor is it all that good. It simply is. In crafting Chopper, Shapiro and Ferreyra make the biggest mistake in slasher stories. We don't watch Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween for Nancy Thompson or Laurie Strode. We watch them for Freddy and Michael. So, when you promise a horror book about a headless Hell's Angel biker from Hell and name the book after his sweet ride, you need to get right to the point. Dead drug dealers. Clueless adults. Horny teenagers. That can all wait until after the first kill. Because now I don't know if I want to wait till Issue #2.

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